MINNEAPOLIS — The FBI and local law enforcement are warning people to be wary of COVID-19 scams.

Criminals are using websites and apps that pretend to track the coronavirus, but actually infect and lock devices until payment is received, according to the FBI. It’s a national problem, said Kevin Smith, spokesman for the FBI’s Minneapolis field office.

“These COVID-19 Internet scams are very similar to other scams we’re all used to identifying, whether it’s a romance scam or a scam that targets senior citizens,” Smith said Wednesday, March 18. “These bad guys are trying to take advantage of our vulnerabilities now.”

The FBI’s best advice: If you’re looking for information about the coronavirus, go to trusted websites, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at cdc.gov/coronavirus, your state health department at health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/situation or your local health department.

People can report scams or attempts scams at ic3.gov. It’s unlikely people will get a callback from an FBI agent, “but that little bit of information that comes from St. Paul, Minn., could be what we need to advance an investigation,” Smith said. “Don’t feel embarrassed, we won’t judge, but it’s important information for us to have.”

St. Paul police are also advising people to watch out for phishing emails and texts. Students received an email purporting to be from their college and sending them to a website for updates, but they were asked to log in to their Microsoft Office 365 accounts and their credentials were stolen, according to a post from police.

The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office offered additional tips last week, including ignoring online offers for “miracle” COVID-19 treatments and researching charities to ensure they are legitimate before making a donation. Tips for checking out charities can be found at ag.state.mn.us/Charity/Donors.asp.

People can report suspected COVID-19 scams to the Attorney General’s Office at (651) 296-3353.

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